Until the development of germ theory in the late Victorian period, it was believed that ‘bad air’ caused diseases that ravaged communities and led to all manner of gruesome illnesses. Although now we know this not to be true, there is another silent killer in our atmosphere, bringing the idea of ‘bad air’ back into our minds – pollution.
It is estimated that globally, air pollution caused an extra 8.8 million premature deaths in 2015. The highest loss of life expectancy is in East Asia, where three of the four years of lost life expectancy could be prevented by the removal of human-made emissions. In Europe, there is an average of 2.2 years of lost life expectancy, 1.7 of which could be prevented.
Air pollution has been found to cause damage to the blood vessels through increased oxidised stress, which then leads to increases in blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure. Other research suggests that older people exposed to air pollution are more at risk of dementia, particularly if they suffer from cardiovascular disease and that up to half of all cases of childhood asthma cases could be prevented by adhering to air pollution limits. In a study released in January 2020, the British Heart Foundation concluded that more than 160,000 people could die over the next decade from strokes and heart attacks caused by air pollution.
With air pollution contributing to around 8% or 40,000 deaths a year and four in 10 children at school in high pollution communities, there are calls for the UK to adopt World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on air pollution and meet them by 2030. Current EU limits – which the UK follows – for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution are 25 micrograms per metre cubed as an annual average. The WHO limits are tougher – at 10 micrograms per metre cubed as an annual average.
Road transport has been highlighted as one of the major air pollution sources, along with buildings and energy. Inside the home, there are hidden dangers lurking from heating and cooking appliances, wood burners, cleaning products and unchecked mould and mildew.
A key element of developing a strategy to tackle air pollution is to identify the main sources by accurate measuring both outdoor and indoor.
Crystal Associates can advise on the best approach. Find out more here